Omaha Recognized for School-Based Health Services and Afterschool Programs

February 11, 2011
A community collaboration in Omaha, Neb., has gained recognition for developing six school-based health centers (SBHCs) that began offering services to 35,000 students at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year. Led by Omaha nonprofit Building Bright Futures, and staffed by medical professionals from community health centers, basic physical health care services are now being provided at five elementary schools and one middle school to students and their siblings living in low-income neighborhoods of north and south Omaha. 
The SBHCs and other key supports for student learning were among the reasons Omaha was selected this year by America's Promise Alliance as one of the nation's 100 Best Communities for Young People (see sidebar), a feat celebrated at a community event held last month. 

"This is an outstanding recognition for Omaha," said Mayor Jim Suttle, who included funding for Building Bright Futures in his proposed 2011 budget. "Our community is fortunate to have many organizations committed to improving the quality of life for our young people." 

"Building Bright Futures is a public-private partnership and all of our programs are the result of community-based collaborative efforts with school districts, community organizations and government agencies," said Executive Director John Cavanaugh. "Our goal is to address the academic needs of the youth in our community by creating educational excellence and equity." 

In addition to providing physical health and health education services, the SBHCs plan to add behavioral and mental health services in the near future. 

To ensure that all students have access regardless of their families' ability to pay, services at the SBHCs are billed according to a sliding scale fee based on family income if the student is not covered by private or public health insurance.The centers will also help eligible families enroll in Medicaid. Development of the centers was made possible through Building Bright Futures, supporting hospitals and clinics and other sources. 

The SBHCs are part of a "pipeline to success" for students that Building Bright Futures seeks to build in its mission to improve academic performance, raise graduation rates, increase civic responsibility and ensure that all students are prepared for postsecondary education. 

Echoing the Promise Neighborhood movement inspired by the Harlem Children's Zone, the pipeline is designed to be a comprehensive network of evidence-based programs focused on early childhood development, health, school attendance, service learning, mentoring, afterschool, academic support and student reengagement. 

Another element of the pipeline recognized by America's Promise Alliance is Omaha's Middle School Learning Center Initiative. Launched by former Mayor Mike Fahey in 2007 and expanded under Mayor Suttle's leadership, the initiative is a collaboration of the City of Omaha, Omaha Public Schools, Building Bright Futures, the Sherwood Foundation, Greater Omaha After School Alliance and other organizations. 

These partners have been successful at providing free, high-quality afterschool programs to more Omaha youth, a key goal of Mayor Suttle's under the Mayors' Action Challenge for Children and Families (www.mayorsforkids.org). 

Omaha received technical assistance throughout 2009 from NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families as part of a project on afterschool system-building funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Last August, the Middle School Learning Center Initiative added a seventh school-based program site. Collectively, the sites served more than 1,500 youth during the first half of the school year. 

In an unprecedented step, Mayor Suttle also worked with city council to include $365,000 in truancy prevention funding in the 2011 city budget. A majority of the funding will support six Youth Attendance Navigator positions at three middle schools, two high schools and Building Bright Futures' new Resource and Re-Engagement Center. These individuals will connect students to afterschool programs and other supports that enhance student success. The remaining funding will support summer youth employment and credit recovery programs. 

"In Omaha, we understand that the foundation for future success is investment in our youngest citizens," said Mayor Suttle. "By providing opportunities for our youth, we're making it possible for Omaha to be one of the nation's leading cities for years to come." 

Details: To learn more about Building Bright Futures, visit www.buildingbrightfutures.net. For more information on the Middle School Learning Center Initiative, visit http://mslci.org. The National Assembly on School-Based Health Care (www.nasbhc.org) provides information and resources for the development of SBHCs. To learn about city strategies for expanding afterschool opportunities, visit www.nlc.org/iyef or contact Bela Shah Spooner at (202) 626-3057 or spooner@nlc.org or Lane Russell at (202) 626-3008 or russell@nlc.org. 

100 Best Communities for Young People - Applications Open March 1 

Is your community one of the nation's best places for young people to live, learn and thrive? If so, America's Promise Alliance and ING want to know about it! Apply beginning March 1 for the 2011 100 Best Communities for Young People presented by ING. Any community dedicated to working collaboratively, raising graduation rates, and improving the lives of its young people should apply. Begin the application process by registering your community at www.americaspromise.org/100best. 

Past winners range from some of our nation's largest cities to small rural communities, from counties to school districts. Winners receive a host of benefits, including technical assistance and training sessions to help strengthen successful local programs. Full program information, including eligibility guidelines and a schedule of technical assistance sessions, is available at www.americaspromise.org/100best.